Another one of those eateries I miss from the days of working on the west side, this is the restaurant that got me hooked on chicken korma. I'd go alone or with my friend Joe, counting on the reliable buffet to make the rest of my day awesome.
The West Hollywood location has a luxurious triangular orange-walled patio, its fountains and Indian music successfully drowning out the irritable Mercedes Benz and Range Rover engines on Santa Monica.
The Burbank location is larger, its pillared halls and painted alcoves hidden between a massive parking structure, a movie theater and a shameless Fuddruckers. Both kitchens have delicious smells radiating from them.
The West Hollywood buffet was where I started, and it is reliable: the Chicken Tikka Masala is a satisfying electric clay red, the dal is thin, yellow and spicy, and the Tandoori Chicken is always good despite its drying out a little on the buffet pan. Settling down for a real meal, though, is where Flavor of India shines. You will get a small disc of rice Papadam, good enough but well-matched with a pumpkin chutney, unexpectedly vibrant and spicy as a jealous goddess.
For a starter, we love the South Indian Idli, dense patties of ground rice and lentil steamed and served in Sambar, a lentil soup. The texture of the idli cake is grainy like cornbread, and comfortably warm; accompanying this is a white, gritty spackle of coconut chutney, which adds a cool balance of sweet coconut and turmeric and a new level of complexity.
Naan is always welcome, but I have a passion for their interpretation of pratha. It's wetter than it looks, unleavened bread with a buttery sheen, baked until flaky and bubbled. Although it makes your eyes close in pleasure when you drag it through something saucy, it needs to be dipped in nothing, and if there are more than three of you, order two of these.
Matter Tofu is a soupy dish of peas, green chilies, and ginger. Soft tofu cubes the color of saffron replace the typical potato or cheese, and soak up the tomato-heavy broth. The peas are small, crisp and slightly spicy. It benefits from absorbant heaps of white rice.
Back to what hooked me. My favorite rendition of Chicken Korma. Boneless chicken soft enough to separate with a fork is bathed in a blend of onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, peanuts (instead of the usual almonds) and raisins.
Together it is happily married in a tongue-enfolding, velvety rich sauce that has me smiling for many minutes, with a perfect pinkish orange color somewhere between pumpkin and vodka sauce. It is a "Marry-Eff-Kill what would be your last meal if you were trapped on a desert island" kind of dish for me.
Flavor of India does a hot masala chai worthy of contemplation, even-handed with cardamom, and their spiced ice tea, a measure of milk on the side, is refreshingly cool.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Indian, Burbank/North Hollywood )
If only they had a bottle of Arrack
9035 Reseda Blvd. (hidden somewhere in Northridge)
Phone: 818-998-6900 | map
I came across Priyani during a halfhearted street fair in Encino, tired of ignoring the offers for discounted chiropractic adjustment and requests to join local alliances. Steaming curry dishes, offered with broad smiles from this booth, had me pocketing their menu until I could make my way over to their hidden kitchen.
You will neverevereverever find this place if you were just driving about searching for a new favorite Sri Lankan restaurant between classes at CSU Northridge.
Its interior is an attempt to convert what would be a liquor store or a supermarket space (unsurprising since it's stuffed next to an Indian market) into a comfortable, homely kitchen. Southeast Asian influences abound: red Buddha statues, Thai elephant prints, Indian cloth, tiny Chinese lanterns. Good curry smells draw you in. You may have to ding the bell if the place seems empty, but chopping sounds will be heard from behind the wall.
Enjoy a vibrantly sour but silky iced tea as you peruse the abbreviated menu. There are regular items, but look for whatever they're making that day, and if someone recommends something to you, take it.
This is not a smiley face, but it might as well be. The patti is familiarly shaped, a plush, flaky shell hiding meat chopped into a chicken salad-like filling. The bouncy spheres called cutlets have a lot of give without being oily and abrasive; you can collapse them to half their thickness without breaking the exterior. The flavor is much like the Lebanese kibbeh at Skaf's.
Both appetizers could use more warmth, but a sriyani sauce is available, like a ruddy sriracha with a burst of throat heat.
This is Mutton Kotthu. I could say there's things in this dish like crispy onion, thin slivers of scallion, carrot and tomato, but those ingredients are in lots of dishes across the world, and don't describe the depth of this creation.
Roti, a thin, unleavened bread of Gothamba flour, is cut into squares and rendered until stained dark with spice, its texture like Thai flat noodles--amazingly so. The mutton is as soft as stewed beef, but resilient as faith, imparting its strong flavor to the murky roti. You may need to impale some of it on a fork and wrest it away from the bone with your teeth. It's worth it.
This was a recommendation given to me while perusing the menu; I promptly got lost trying to follow its description and have failed to satisfactorily record its contents, but nodded enthusiastically. It combines lots of their curry and biryani dishes; the entire affair is prepared atop basmati rice, gathered up in a massive banana leaf, and steamed.
There is chicken curry, delicate and moist and indicative of how good their chicken curries are by themselves. Chopped onion is made meek and yielding. Eggplant is deeply colored and tasty. Plantains like reedy potatoes are there, skin included, but steamed soft and yellow with spice.
You know kari,those curry leaves, those tiny ones that aren't bay leaves but are usually placed in southeast Asian dishes to stab you in the mouth and force you to draw them out? These are actually cooked, curling with heat, and soft enough to be edible. Even one of those spherical cutlets is included, falling apart. All of these give a splendid aftertaste and a low-key burn.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Indian, The Valley, Indonesian/Malaysian )
The first time we came here, the El Rey was hosting a goth industrial event, and our noses and sudden appetites led us here. If you're ever in a position to enjoy masala spinach tacos and tandoori chicken burritos at one-thirty in the morning while The Sisters of Mercy boom in the next room, you should do.
The new Silver Lake location is much more put together, less bustling soup kitchen than hip lounge, with rust-colored walls highlighted with fuchsia and violet. Hanging lamps of stained glass throw rainbows around the interior. The Buddha on the wall smiles demurely at the Buddha outside Gobi Mongolian BBQ.
Street food from India it might be, but Indian street food after a hungry band of caballeros rode through. The concepts of "tandoori" and "tikka masala" have had an illicit affair with "burrito" and "quesadilla" and "cheese fries," and the resultant love child is a strangely familiar satisfaction. Extra-virgin olive oil is used for everything, so the food doesn't get too heavy.
The tortilla chips are made from pappadam, which we think is the best idea ever. Jars of chutneys accompany it: a mossy green coriander with a nose-sniffy bite, a dark, vegetal mint, an adobe red that looks vicious but is really just a tamarind chutney, and a thick sweet brown with an applesauce consistency. At the El Rey location you get spicy sauces in big squeeze bottles.
The samosas here are bulky tricornered hats, gently steaming with curry-yellowed potatoes and peas. Three of the chutneys make a decorative lagoon around it. It's a fine appetizer, though not yet indicative of the crossover you're about to try.
The Tandoori Fish Burrito doesn't provoke brilliant words to describe it, but it is warm and friendly, a bulky mound filled with spanish rice, white fish painted golden with termuric, and the occasional sliver of lettuce, tomato or cilantro. It has an elegant, zenlike balance, and welcomes the occasional spoonful of one of the four chutneys. It works better than the chicken, which gets too firm in spots, and the tofu, which buckles under a burrito's weight.
Served open-face, the Naanwich is more of a Chicken Tikka Masala served on a puffy tostada than a sandwich per se. Potentially one could force the issue into a grand taco affair, but it works better as a dish with utensils and an edible plate. There are also fish, shrimp, spinach and tofu versions of this.
The naan (Bink likes the garlic, I like the whole wheat) is an excellent vehicle, barely sweet, just firm enough to resist cutting, and good for soaking up extra masala, or chutney, or anything else. It is gorgeous. Brilliant. The chicken collapses under the fork, and you don't notice the slow burn until halfway through. Spanish rice surrounds it, flavorful but unobtrusive.
Masala Cheese Fries! Richly red and fragrant, it's fulfilling like chili fries but seems, well, healthier. The fries are already good on their own, seasoned and crispy, but dragging long strands of melting cheese and orange masala sauce behind them.
Both the lime-lemonade and the Chai iced tea are subtle and refreshing, whether under a Mojave sun or a Mumbai sun.
Cowboys & Turbans is open until 10 according to the website, midnight according to the takeout menu, but they may stay open late when a club night is happening next door. Prices are a little steep, but if you've fought your way along the Wilshire corridor and found parking with the intent to eat here, you're already bloody-minded about having your Tex-Mexindian fix fulfilled. At the Silver Lake location, parking can be fought over with Gobi.
* I'm referring to tectonic plates, of course. You know... what the lithosphere is separated into? Didn't you study your geography?
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Hollywood, Indian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
Starting to be a weekly ritual
4325 Sunset Blvd. (@ Fountain)
Phone: 323-665-7818 | map
Despite being squeezed into the parking-spacially challenged corner of Sunset and Fountain, next to a liquor store and under a karate school, Agra has managed to thrive. Its interior is nicer, with dimly lit avocado walls and booths of a deep byzantium purple. Curtains stretch across the ceiling. The people are friendly and may have some Indian television on if it's not too busy.
The lunch specials are the easiest introduction, a round metal tray with a quintet of flavorful choices. Usually the sides are white rice, yellow daal, chickpeas in a tomato-based sauce that could be cooked longer, and a happy circle of raita in the center.
Their sog paneer is wonderfully dense and creamy steamed spinach*, with tofu-like cubes of white cheese appearing beneath. I order it spicy, but I suspect they are not taking me seriously. Halfway through the meal, though, the spice is awakened like an irritable tiger, causing the quiet suppression of coughing, but it does not stay awake long.
A specialty of theirs, which you won't find on most familiar Indian menus, is balti, a Kashmiri curry cooked in a wok-like dish. The Chicken Mushroom Balti is stew-soft, its black slices of mushroom rendered limp with all their flavor pulled into the whole composition. The sauce is tan and not immediately spicy, but complex and wealthy with nuance.
The Chicken Vindaloo is a hot curry of lemon, onion, tomatoes and potatoes crowding around gentle slabs of chicken. The Fish Vindaloo is even better, the fish soaking up the robust black-and-green speckled sauce.
It says it's very hot, but they don't make it that way if you are not obviously Indian. It is forceful, with a persistent and patient burn, but not fiery. I'm going to ask for "British Spicy" next time and see if that makes a difference.
We're always a big fan of garlic naan, but when I'm lunching I like the keema naan, which is like a thin, lamb-and-peas-filled quesadilla; the lamb is ground into paste like chorizo, and the bread is charred around the edges. It's fun, but doesn't serve as a utensil as naan usually does.
To take off the heat there are a few beers like Taj Mahal or Haywards 5000, or you can grab another Indian brand from the liquor store next door.
* Or steamy creamed?
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Indian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
A self-contained yoga studio, market, bookstore and lifestyle hub, Golden Bridge Yoga stoically ignores the nearby food destinations: a McDonald's, a KFC, and the sultry Los Balcones del Perú.
I'm usually a little awkward when entering such serene locations as this, especially with a book right up front with the title That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things.
Doubts race through my head: do I belong here? Do I exude the soulless stink of the omnivore? Am I emanating the waves of stress and anger of the working U.S. American? Am I inferior to these thin people wearing airy clothes, these willowy women with smooth-skinned tummies emerging from their prenatal yoga session?
However, there seems to be a sense of tolerance for such a murderous savage as I, and there is the Nite Moon Cafe to help me get a little more balanced*. A long counter winds around two walls, displaying foil-wrapped delicacies buffet-style or offering complex plates of well-assembled sandwiches.
The Tiki Masala Veggie Burger is a most impressive tempeh patty, with more heart and soul than most veggie translations of ground meat. Onions are barely caramelized and mix sweetly with a mango chutney and fresh basil. The whole wheat bun is scratchy but does not scream its grains.
The affair comes with mixed greens, straightforward enough, with crunchy seeds (bigger than sunflower, smaller than pumpkin... we're betting pine nut) and enough shredded carrots to make me feel like something good is going on in the vitamin-accumulation department.
One can build a salad from the buffet counter, and also ladle up some thick soups from metal bins. The warm, loving presence on the left is the repetitively-named Lentil Dhal; all the earth tones in the world are here, deep and robust, with bits of carrot and kidney bean for mass. It seems Indian-inspired, and unfortunately is not as good heated up the next day.
The curry-colored, cayenne-dusted bowl on the right is Mung Bean and Rice, which tastes remarkably like Aloo Gobi despite there being no cauliflower that we could detect. There are sparks of cumin and ginger.
The Grilled Goat Cheese sandwich is fairly plush, with the (non-vegan, by the way) goat cheese meshing with onions, spinach, Moroccan carrots, and tomato. The organic whole wheat bread, like the bun, is subdued.
Drinks are bottles of water (useful after long, cleansing bouts of yoga, which I don't do much), restful teas, or blended smoothies. I usually continue my healthful pursuits by getting a Berry Antioxidant, which whips up rice milk with berries of the blue, straw and rasp persuasion, and some hemp protein. It's deeply purple like moody velvet curtains, and vibrant.
* For example, from those occasions when I am recovering from a recently well-demolished plate of juicy carnitas, oh Lordy.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, Indian, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
I Dream of Paratha
Farmers Market L.A. - Stall #122
6333 West Third Street (@ Fairfax)
Phone: 323-933-4627 | map
A purveyor of Singapore/Malay/Indonesian/Indian food, this awning-sheltered eatery stands out as one of the better stalls in the famous Farmer's Market at 3rd and Fairfax. It's cash-only, and the paper sign implores you to be patient: this is not fast food. Don't wander too far, however; your number will be called, and your dishes served, charmingly enough, on a banana leaf.
Except for Indian, the cuisine served here is not widely known in Los Angeles, so until we hand over a few SGDs for some satay at the Telok Ayer Market, we cannot vouch for authenticity. All we know is that we dig it.
We think this is what you need to try first. It's roti paratha, a flaky grilled bread, the dough for which is provided by an Indian bakery. It's a little like naan, a little like a puffy crêpe, and a lot like lovely. With the thin but robust vegetable curry sauce clinging to its edges, it becomes sublime. We are going to get this every time we come here, without fail.
Particularly savory is the rendang beef, spicy and suggestive of ginger and coconut. It is somehow familiar, like a chili with gleaming pockets of dark red oils; the solid chunks of beef fall away into striations, to be dragged through the reddish brown sauce. I wonder briefly whether licking a banana leaf clean would be considered poor manners.
Paired with this is a pickled cucumber slaw that has a refreshing vinegar tang; it is protected from the rendang's muscular presence by a cup of white rice.
The Vegetable Tofu Curry is not dissimilar to Thai stylings, full-bodied, soupy and understandable, accompanied by a heap of brilliantly yellow rice. It stains the plastic utensils beyond repair.
With this Bianca likes to get lime juice; it's sour as a spinster aunt who's been left out of the will, but cool and able to take the sun off. I prefer the mango, which is oh! so! revitalizing, as if the soul of all that is "fruit" and "tropical" has been poured into a cup.
Thanks to Ade and David for urging us over to the southern side of the Farmer's Market. You should go buy a t-shirt from them.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Beverly Hills/Wilshire, Indian, Indonesian/Malaysian )